A close call for Courtney Force

July, 11, 2010

KENT, Wash. -- Like father, like daughter.

Courtney Force got her first taste of what it's like to have something go terribly wrong at 250 mph when her Top Alcohol dragster blew a tire Saturday and tore off a good portion of the car.

"Hell, if I couldn't win it, at least I made it spectacular," she said.

Just as her famous father, John Force, might say.

Courtney, who won the category at last year's Northwest Nationals, was paired up against Mike Austin in the first round of eliminations. As the cars neared the finish line, the right rear tire exploded on her car.

That can be a disastrous situation with the car veering out of control, but Courtney, 22, kept her cool. She kept what remained of her dragster off the wall and out of Austin's lane, bringing it to a safe halt.

"I was hoping this was my lucky track, but maybe not," Courtney said. "I was so close to the finish line, and I was trying to get around Mike. Then I thought, 'Man, I am having some really bad tire shake.' I let off [the throttle], and I realized my tire was off.

"I could smell it. I was tilted sideways in the cockpit and just driving it with one arm, getting my chutes out and shutting everything off. I was pulling on the brake to get it stopped as fast as I could. I didn't want to go over into his lane, and I didn't want to hit the wall. I was doing the best I could."

Just as her dad would do it, a situation he had warned her about many times. But Dad, a 14-time Funny Car champion, was the only one who panicked this time. John rushed down the Pacific Raceways track on his scooter and got to the dragster before Courtney got out of the car.

"I think my dad clocked out the [scooter]," Courtney joked. "I'm getting out of the car, and he is already down there. I was telling him, 'I'm fine, I'm fine.' But my poor mom [Laurie] -- this is what I get her for her birthday."

After calming down her dad, Courtney immediately went back to the starting line to watch her sister, Brittany, make her run. Brittany won when her opponent's car didn't get off the starting line.

Brittany, 24, doesn't have long-range plans in drag racing. She teaches English at a middle school in California.

But Courtney wants to join big sister Ashley Force Hood as a Funny Car driver on her dad's team. Courtney is about to graduate from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in communications.

John, who says Courtney is just like him (a scary thought, he admits), plans to move up Courtney by 2012. For now, she's still learning, and Saturday's scary incident is part of the process.

"I'm not that great of a driver," Courtney said. "I'm not horrible; I just haven't been doing it for 30 years. I'm still new to it. I'm still learning."

Courtney works with Ashley on a practice track at the team's headquarters in Yorba Linda, Calif. She thinks all the lectures from John and Ashley helped Saturday.

"It all set in the second I had a problem," Courtney said. "I've been around these cars enough to know that you have to feel it and figure it out when [trouble] happens as quickly as possible.

"Honestly, I was waiting for my time. All my sisters and my dad have had crashes. I just have to know what to do when something goes wrong.

"I thought I did that. I think my instincts took over, and I just did what I could."

And she had some pretty good family instincts to rely on when the time came.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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